In the small midwestern city of Zenith, George Babbitt seems to have it all: a successful real-estate business, a devoted wife, three children, and a house with all the modern conveniences. Yet, dissatisfied and lonely, he’s begun to question the conformity, consumerism, and competitiveness of his conservative, and ultimately cultureless middle-class community. His despairing sense that something, many things are missing from his life leads him into a flirtation with liberal politics and a fling with an attractive and seemingly “bohemian” widow. But he soon finds that his attempts at rebellion may cost more than he is willing to pay.
The title of Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 satire on American materialism added a new word to our vocabulary. “Babbittry” has come to stand for all that’s wrong with a world where the pursuit of happiness means the procurement of things—a world that substitutes “stuff” for “soul.” Some twenty years after Babbitt’s initial success, critics called Lewis dated and his fiction old-fashioned. But these judgments have come to seem like wishful thinking. With Babbitry evident all around us, the novel is more relevant than ever.